Goal-setting for behavior change in primary care: an exploration and status report

Patient Educ Couns. 2009 Aug;76(2):174-80. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2009.06.001. Epub 2009 Jun 27.


Objective: This paper explores the behavior change method of goal-setting and reviews the literature on goal-setting in primary care for patients with chronic conditions.

Methods: A literature search was conducted resulting in eight articles meeting the criteria of goal-setting interventions in primary care for adults or adolescents with chronic conditions.

Results: Hypotheses are advanced that goal-setting is generally conducted by collaboratively working with patients to set short-term and specific goals, with follow-up to provide feedback to patients. The articles reviewed generally confirmed these hypotheses. This review did not focus on clinical outcomes, but on the processes of engaging patients in goal-setting discussions.

Conclusion: Evidence that goal-setting is superior to other behavior change methods has not been shown. Since goal-setting is being utilized as a behavior change technique in many primary care sites, primary care practices can benefit from information on how best to implement this innovation.

Practice implications: Generally, clinicians are minimally involved in goal-setting discussions with their patients. Engaging patients in goal-setting can be done with interactive computer programs and non-clinical members of the primary care team.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Goals*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Patient Care Planning*
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Primary Health Care*